Pride of Searcy Comes from Culture of Success That Should Carry Over to the Arkansas Football Program

Wyatt Simmons, Arkansas football, Harding
photo credit: Twitter/@Wyatt_Simmons10

Harding Academy linebacker Wyatt Simmons signed with Arkansas on Wednesday morning and could immediately compete for playing time as a true freshman.

The three-star linebacker who had no offers as recently as last spring committed to the Razorbacks in mid-August, choosing the Razorbacks over Auburn and Clemson. He also had offers from the likes of Florida State, Illinois, Mississippi State, Miami (Fla.), Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Texas, South Carolina, USC and others.

He also knows well where the state’s most successful college football team of the last few years resides. His father coaches the Harding Bisons, who won the Division II national championship in dominant fashion last Saturday in McKinney, Texas, running wild over Colorado School of Mines, 38-14.

Harding, a Church of Christ affiliated private university in Searcy, put the cherry on top of a recent rich football tradition and undefeated season. The program has routinely made trips to the Division II playoffs and advanced to the quarterfinals a number of times.

No Harding team had ever played for a national championship in football, though. The only other Arkansas team to play in an NCAA national title game was Arkansas State in 1986 Division I-AA (now FCS) playoffs.

Former head coach Ronnie Huckeba transitioned the offense over a decade ago to the Flexbone, which allowed the Bisons to gain a tactical advantage that hurry-up spread and Air Raid teams were going to have a hard time game planning for on the fly.

Huckeba, whose son Jeb starred at Arkansas from 2001-04 as a defensive end and had a brief NFL career, then handed over the reins to current head coach Paul Simmons (father of Wyatt), who was his defensive coordinator.

Simmons’ team this year set the national Division II rushing record for yards gained in a season, breaking it against Lenoir-Rhyne in the semifinals, which ironically was the team that had set the record 10 years prior.  

By virtue of running for 502 yards in the championship game, Harding became the first NCAA football team ever at any level to rush for 6,000 yards in a season, finishing with 6,161 yards.

Arkansas is hoping that Wyatt’s career could match that of Jeb’s, who was a part of Razorback teams that won 30 games in four seasons, including a Cotton Bowl and a SEC Western Division title.

The Emergence of Wyatt Simmons

Wyatt Simmons recently led Harding Academy to the Class 4A state title with a 43-35 victory over Rivercrest. He advanced to the state championship game all four years of his high school career and won three rings, only losing to Malvern as a junior.

Simmons recently corresponded with Best of Arkansas Sports and said that the title game had a surreal atmosphere.

“At the beginning of the Rivercrest game when we had just scored the second time after two turnovers, getting to see the faces of everyone around me realizing what was happening,” Simmons said.

The Wildcats will move up to Class 5A next season because they continue to win, while Simmons will be taking his talents down Highway 67 and across Interstate 40 and up 49 to Fayetteville.

“I’m looking forward to being around different kinds of people from different places that are all new to me,” Simmons said.

He has talked to a number of players in the 2024 class, such as Charleston Collins and Braylen Russell, and he said they all share a common goal of helping get Arkansas back into a winning program that is competing for championships.

The family is also getting some love from current Razorbacks. After Harding won the national championship, Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn apparently emailed a note of congratulations to Paul Simmons and Sam Pittman gave him a shoutout during his early signing day press conference.

“Daddy obviously is a great coach,” Pittman said, referring to Paul Simmons. “Won the natty there at Harding University, and honestly the last two games weren’t close. So man, what a great team they had and congratulations there to Paul and his coaching staff.”

Simmons said it was really cool to be on a championship hunt of his own at the same time his father was attempting to win Harding’s first football national championship.

He got to attend both the semifinal and the DII title game in person, and then saw his cousin get married on Sunday. It’s certainly not a boring time in the Simmons household these days.

“It’s been unreal,” Simmons said. “I love my dad, he’s my guy so getting to follow him around and support him and root for him has been one of the best things in my life so far.”

With Harding Academy sharing a football field with the Bisons, the two programs were around each other constantly, and it was easy for them to feed off each other as they each chased excellence. The spiritual background that each share also plays a key role, and Simmons even mentioned that in an interview with the Buzz’s John Nabors back in the summer.


Check out some highlights of Arkansas football signee Wyatt Simmons from his junior year at Harding Academy:


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